A quick, double-knock at our special ed classroom’s door. I rise to answer it, but before I can even get up and out from behind my small-group teaching table, an adult hand has opened the door partway, shoved a boy through fast enough to make him stumble, and shut the door again quickly.
I have never seen the boy before. The students yell out “He’s a new student, Teacher!” In one connected set of motions, I quickly give him a big smile and welcome him to our class as I seat him with paper and markers–and rush out the door.
The boy’s mother is hurriedly making her escape.
She returns only at my insistence. I introduce myself and say how happy I am to have her son in my class. She looks at me, puzzled, and–could it be?–amused? Her invisible escape foiled, she now strolls leisurely away without even introducing herself.
It is not a language-barrier issue. The family speaks only English at home.
Within a day, I decide–fairly or not–this parent cares not a fig for the child that once came from between her legs.
The new boy’s name is Donald. The Office had known he was expected this day. They didn’t think it was important to inform me, his teacher—the one who has to find desk space, textbooks, and supplies for the new student, plan lessons to include his needs, and help the other students–always unnerved by changes to routine–adjust to his presence.
And that will take some adjusting.
I am five feet seven inches tall and weigh 125.
Our new student, at ten years old, is 5’10” and over 180 lbs. A big body like a man’s, with a deep, booming voice like a man’s. (He is, likely, a man, biologically: Many inner-city children begin puberty today before they are double-digits in age.)
Donald pushes his big man’s weight around: Body slamming the other students, and me, against desks, tables, cabinets, and walls. He yells extremely loudly in his booming voice all day long. Donald also has an endearing habit of spitting into the eyes of those he is upset with.
Initially, Donald is upset with everyone.
It is easy to understand why: This “5th-grader” has never held a pencil properly or written his own name. Yet, until he joined our class, he had been left in regular-ed classrooms every year–“mainstreamed”–and “socially promoted” each year with regular-ed students, to stay within his age level, rather than his skill level. Left alone, in the midst of these students, year after year, without any extra assistance.
Imagine being in over your head day after day, year after year, with no one helping you succeed. No wonder he is so angry.
While I feel great sympathy for Donald, it is clear that this oversized boy with the terrible temper is going to be a danger if we cannot get him some one-on-one assistance. Just his spitting is tremendous cause for concern in these days of serious drug-resistant health threats.
I ask the office for a second assistant—I have learned that Special Ed teachers can mandate additional helpers for special cases like Donald’s. I am told no help is available.
Only several months later, after my continued insistence, is another assistant finally provided.
How outrageous is it that I had to demand repeatedly that this issue be addressed? How much effective learning do you think has gone on in my classroom in the meantime?
And here is an interesting little side note:
Two days after Donald was first thrust at me through my door, a paper form was thrust at me by one of the Office staff.
“You need to sign this.”
“What is it?”
“You just need to sign it.”
When I press for an answer, I’m told that it states that I am aware the new boy in my class caused severe problems in his prior school. But the form not only does not describe the nature of the previous misbehavior. It provides no space to describe it.
“What did Donald do at his previous school?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why would I sign a form that tells me absolutely nothing?”
The District’s Legal team apparently believes that, if I sign this form, the District will be absolved of all responsibility should anyone be injured on my watch.
This, despite the fact that I was offered no choice in whether or not to accept Donald into my classroom.
Of course, I refused to sign the form!
A former therapist indicated that she believes I suffer from PTSD. Caused by my seventeen years spent under the roof of people who constantly yelled at and eventually often hit me and my siblings–in both predictable and unpredictable circumstances.
As an adult white-collar professional, the first time a fellow white-collar professional unprofessionally raised his voice in the office, I ducked.
I now recognize that being in that Special Ed classroom with body-slamming, booming-voiced Donald, stressful as it would have been for any person, was particularly so for me. Every time Donald’s voice suddenly blared out, I felt like running out of that half-sized storeroom/classroom screaming for help.
Frankly, it is not unreasonable to state that a year spent with Donald could have, in and of itself, caused a mild case of PTSD even in someone who had NOT been abused as a child.
There were thirteen other children stuck in that closet room with Donald. And Rey. Don’t forget Rey, he of the always-scooting desk and wandering scissors.
What loving parent could send their child off to school each morning knowing that these classmates were waiting for them? No one, if they had a choice. Most do not know. But our school administrators, who do know, have no problem consigning YOUR children to this hopeless hell.
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